A paeon of praise to the theme of love triumphant, the Westmorland service was commissioned as a wedding present by John, 10th Earl of Westmorland for his bride Sarah Anne, daughter of the London banker Sir Robert Child. She had fallen in love aged eighteen with "Rapid Westmorland", as the Earl was known. As John Hardy and Maurice Tomlin describe: "....knowing that her father had other ideas for Sarah Anne, [Westmorland] asked him at dinner one evening, 'Child, suppose that you were in love with a girl, and her father refused his consent to the union, what should you do?' 'Why! run away with her, to be sure!' the banker rashly replied. The young man took the advice, and in the small hours of Friday morning, 17 May 1782, Sarah Anne stole away from her father's house, no. 38 Berkeley Square, and was soon with her lover in a post-chaise, bound for Gretna Green. It was not long before her flight was discovered, and Mr. and Mrs. Child set out in pursuit, sending two men ahead on swift horses with orders to arrest the fleeing couple. As the horsemen drew level with his carriage, the Earl aimed his pistol at them, but hesitated to fire. 'Shoot, my Lord!' cried Sarah Anne, and the next moment one of Mr. Child's favourite hunters lay dead under his groom. The parents were meantime delayed by a strategem of the Earl's. Passing a detachment of the King's Dragoon Guards exercising on the road to the North, he had recognised the commander as an old friend and had begged him to slow down the pursuit. When the Childs came up they found the road obstructed by troops and were forced to wait until the manoeuvre was completed. Soon after Baldock they gave up and turned back while the lovers sped on their way and were married in an ale house in Gretna Green the next day" (Osterley Park House, 1985, pp. 99-100).
Although a reconciliation was effected with Sarah Anne's parents and the marriage ceremony was held over again in a church, it seems Child never got over the disappointment. Shortly before his death he made a new will in which he left Osterley, the country house which he had had extensively remodelled by Robert Adam, to the Westmorlands's second son, thereby ensuring that future Earls of Westmorland should not inherit the Child estate.
The connection with Adam is significant, for the decoration of these caskets, with their Etruscan-ribbon bands and medallioned bas-reliefs recalling ancient sacrifices at Love's altar, is in the purest Adam taste and it is tempting to suggest that Adam was consulted about the design of this extraordinary service. It may also be significant that it is known that Smith and Sharp supplied plate to the retailer William Pickett, who sold the celebrated Richmond Race Cup which was designed by Adam in 1770.
The Westmorland Service is among the last of the great toilet services. Other materials, such as porcelain and enamel, were, by the middle of the eighteenth century, competing with silver and silver-gilt for a place on the fashionable dressing table. One other toilet service is known by Daniel Smith and Robert Sharp, made for Queen Sophia Magdalena of Sweden in 1779 and now in the National Museum of Sweden, Stockholm. It has similar decoration with medallions adapted by James Tassie within borders of finely-executed palm leaves, ram's masks, ribbon-tied husk swags and anthemion ornament.
Other pieces from the Westmorland Service to have appeared in recent years include a suite of three toilet boxes sold in these Rooms, October 17, 1996, lot 295; a pair of caskets, 7¾ inches wide, sold Christie's, London, March 31, 1976, and again in these Rooms, October 14, 1987, lot 170; a pin cushion sold Christie's, New York, October 19, 1988, lot 93; a magnificent dressing-glass which although not engraved with the same arms is believed to have formed part of this service, sold Christie's, London, April 30, 1996, lot 61; and a ewer and basin recently presented to Osterley by the present Earl of Jersey (see Timothy Schroder, "The Silver at Osterley", Apollo, April, 1995, p. 25).
John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland (1759-1841) by George Romney. The National Trust
Sarah Anne, Countess of Westmorland (1764-1793) by George Romney. The National Trust
Sir Robert Child (1739-1792) by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The National Trust